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5 Ways to Simplify Back-to-School Shopping

Every August during my childhood, at the end of a long and lazy Florida summer, my family would take a trip to Wal-Mart. It was Back-to-School Time.

We always went during the sales tax holiday when shoppers were showing no mercy. Armed with school supply lists and two shopping carts, my mother, two brothers, and I would battle other families who were quickly depleting the shelves of anything remotely helpful to scholarly pursuits.

Ballpoint pens, gel pens, erasable pens – who knows why we needed so many versions of the same thing. Regular pencils, mechanical pencils, colored pencils. Scented markers, glowing markers, magic markers. We went home with maybe 60 different tools to write our names with. Not to mention all the back-to-school outfits we bought in the clothing department.

After a few years, my family outgrew the crazy school shopping bonanza, and started minimizing our carbon footprint as a result. We saved some money – and our sanity – in the process. When it comes to school supplies, less can be more. Here are some tips to help your family make it through back-to-school season in one piece.

  1. Use it or lose it. If you buy too many supplies, your children will probably just end up losing them. I find people’s pens everywhere at my university – in couches, on tables and under desks. Take what you need and leave what you don’t, and you often find that it’s easier to keep track of your belongings.
  2. Keep it simple. A fancy $20 precision protractor won’t guarantee an A in math. You don’t need any sophisticated technology (except the brain) to excel in school, so don’t go overboard. Also, every parent is familiar with the year-end discovery of 10 notebooks that were only half written in – help your kids to not carry around more than they need by simplifying their supplies at the start of the year.
  3. Stay organized. Label your children’s school supplies with their names. Use pencil boxes to hold pens, pencils, crayons, and markers. Keep a binder with loose-leaf paper inside. All the supplies that don’t fit in the pencil box can go into a drawer. The fewer supplies you lose, the less shopping you’ll have to do to replace them.
  4. Quality over quantity. Go for sustainable products made of recycled material or with green certifications. Check out tips from the EPA to practice the “3 Rs” of waste reduction. Pack your kids a no-waste, healthy lunch box. Don’t just buy the cheapest stuff so you can buy more of them – especially if they’re more likely to fall apart sooner. Look for products that tread lightly on the planet and last longer. You won’t need to buy as many.
  5. Pass it on. If you get to the point where your supplies have lasted through an entire school year, congratulations! Remember that “new” does not mean “better.” If you still have clothes and supplies come June, they could be good for another season. Continue to use them over the summer and into the next year. You can also pass them on to younger siblings, cousins, or friends who will be starting school.

Krislyn Placide is a student at Northwestern University and an intern with the Center for a New American Dream.

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Comments

This is all well and good, except that especially at the elementary levels, the teachers send a very specific list of very specific amounts the children need to bring to school. We had a first grade teacher who required 20 glue sticks! My oldest carried around a pack of 100 notecards for 2 years because they were on “the list” and her teachers did surprise notebook checks where points were assigned for having all items on “the list” in your binder at all times. They never used a single notecard either year. Similarly, our teachers require students to have separate notebooks of specific colors, even if only half the notebook will be used rather than a binder with tabbed dividers where unused paper can be saved for the next year. We need to also encourage our teachers to re-evaluate their supply lists regularly so they aren’t putting unnecessary pressure on families to be wasteful by requiring us to buy items our children don’t actually need.

Posted by Jane at August 22, 2012 at 11:46am

We “shop” at home for school supplies first and then fill in what we don’t have. Also, I try to buy things that will last more than one year. Plastic rather than paper folders for example. We tear out used pages from old notebooks and use binders from professional conferences. Binders can easily be emptied out and reused. The emphasis on all new is ridiculous.

Posted by MomofFour at August 21, 2012 at 11:20pm

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